The first thing that must be said is that yes I am well aware this was a Christmas special and that yes, ideally reviewing it somewhere around, you know, Christmas would have been a jolly good idea.
But surrounded as I was by noisy (though adorable) nieces and nephews, and shuttling across half of the east coast of Australia to see many much-loved relatives, I decided the sanest course of action was to enter into the spirit of timeshifting and watch it when I actually had the time to take it in properly.
Which is what I did, thus handily extending Christmas by a week.
So was it worth waiting for?
Well yes … and no.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Doctor’s new companion Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman), is an absolute firecracker of a character.
Vivacious, determined, insatiably curious, and as plucky and resourceful as they come – she flits between careers as a barmaid and a governess to high society; it is in the latter role that she spends much of her time in this episode – she is a worthy foil to the Doctor, who is forced by Clara’s sheer force of will to abandon his self-imposed isolation from humanity as he grieves the loss of Amy and Rory Pond.
In that regard, she harkens back to the ballsy attitude embodied by one of the Doctor’s previous companions, Donna (Catherine Tate), and promises to provide us with many episodes of amusement and intrigue.
And it is the promise of the latter that has me most excited.
For Clara is no ordinary woman.
Straddling time in a way that not even the Doctor can initially explain, she is both Clara the Victorian-era governess/barmaid, and Oswin Oswald the Dalek-ised woman who aids the Doctor far into the future in the first episode of the seventh series, “Asylum of the Daleks”.
That she has existed in at least two time periods, thousands of years apart, and died in both of them, suggests a woman who harbours secrets so immense it will take the Doctor quite a while to uncover them, a task, which the trailer for the second half of the series indicates, he will undertake with gusto.
That was the most exciting part of this episode for me.
Another thoroughly enjoyable aspect of the episode was watching the Doctor’s temporary companions Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), a Silurian who describes herself, quite comically at one point as “a lizard woman from the dawn of time”, her wife and aide, Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) a Sontaran, who first appeared (and died it must be noted) in the episode “A Good Man Goes to War”, do their best to aid mankind’s one-time repeated saviour in his new role as an observer of humanity and nothing more.
Madame Vastra, who bravely confronts the episode’s villain, Dr Simeon (Richard E. Grant) at one point and demands to know what he is up to – the answer? Working with an alien entity called The Intelligence to replace mankind with icy replicas – makes it clear to Clara when they finally meet up that while they do not approve of the Doctor’s uncharacteristically morose withdrawal from his role as humanity’s guardian, they will do all they can to assist him in it.
All three characters are fearless, witty and every bit as engaging as they were in “A Good Man Goes to War”, and Strax particuarly provides much needed comic relief – the Doctor refers to him as his “potato-headed dwarf” at one point – in an episode that is dark and grim for much of the time.
Other standouts include an all new TARDIS interior – it is glossy and pretty and bright but very much restored to its role as a machine that transports the Doctor where he needs to go – which Clara observes, to the Doctor’s great amusement is “much smaller on the outside” (he remarks “No one has said that before”; they usually mention how much bigger it is on the inside) – and subtlely reworked theme music, which is instantly recognisable as the time lord’s signature tune while sounding altogether, energetically different.
Alas all those wonderful characters and shiny new things did not make for a perfect episode.
While it starts promisingly enough, way back in 1842, with a deeply unsettling scene where a maladjusted young boy finds his decidedly malicious snowman talking back to him, and agrees to join him in his quest to supplant humanity with ice/human hybrids, it soon peters out 50 years later into a limp tale where the snowmen bare their teeth from time to time, Richard E Grant camps it up as a cliched villain, Dr Simeon, and the intelligent ice creature known as The Intelligence (voiced by Sir Ian McKellen), which feed off and embody the thoughts of the people around them threatens much but delivers little.
Yes there are some truly scary moments such as when the bitter old governess, who drowned a year earlier in the pond at the home where Clara is now a governess, arises re-born as an icy harridan and the template by which The Intelligence will create a race of creatures capable of wiping out humanity threatens Clara and her wards, and then, for a brief time, the Doctor and his temporary companions.
It is suitably creepy and exactly what you’d expect from an episode which starts so darkly and retains a great deal of the gloom throughout.
But that is about where the scariness begins and ends.
For though the writers go to a great deal of trouble to set up a menacing adversary for the Doctor, Clara and those who stand with them, it quickly plays out to not much of a threat at all, with an ending so convenient and limp, it is only the revelations about Clara that follow it that truly rescue the episode.
They could have done so much more with a foe this scary but alas it is all camp posturing, and empty threats from an enemy who is disposed of much too easily.
But it is perhaps understandable that the main storyline doesn’t amount to much since the episode really was geared to showing us how miserable the Doctor had become without the Ponds, how feisty and capable Clara was, and how great a secret she was carrying, and how great they would undoubtedly be together.
And in that respect, “The Snowmen” was a more than worthy new Doctor Who Christmas special even when watched a week later than it should have been.
* And here’s what we can look forward to in the second half of season 7, coming soon.